In a generation where many of the biggest titles are sequels, Atlus proves that it is still possible to innovate the gaming industry with unique ideas. Catherine is really unlike anything you have ever played. It’s both memorable and enjoyable in its own twisted way.
The story revolves around Vincent Brooks, a 32 year old male who is perfectly content with life as it is. He enjoys drinking with friends and laying around in his boxers. He also has a girlfriend named Katherine (with a K). They have been together for five years and she wants to take the relationship to another level. This rattles Vincent because he’s now forced to move out of his comfort zone. He then meets a mysterious blonde seductress at a bar after getting wasted one night. Vincent’s life literally turns into a nightmare when he finds that girl, who just so happens to be named Catherine (with a C), laying in his bed the very next morning. She’s completely naked, by the way.
The rest of the game goes through how Vincent deals with his new found ordeal. The story is hilarious at times but it does have a serious undertone in the grand scheme of things. Atlus did a great job with the translation, too. The dialogue is witty and the conversations between Vincent and the rest of the cast comes off naturally. The discussions range from moaning about jobs to getting into serious questions about love and life in general. Whether it’s random gossiping between guys or real concerns between friends, it’s always interesting no matter what. The quality voice acting certainly helps.[drop]During the night, Vincent spends his time at the Stray Sheep pub. After a few cutscenes you can walk around the bar, chat with friends or other customers, check your phone for text messages, drink an endless supply of liquor, or play on an arcade machine. The mini-game, titled Rapunzel, is a variation of the main nightmare puzzles but with a more lighthearted aesthetic. There are many interesting conversations to be had in the bar that act as supplements to the story as well, which can lead to sidequests. Once you leave the Stray Sheep, the nightmare begins.
Vincent’s nightmares take place in a weird tower inhabited by talking sheep. If he dies while dreaming then he dies in real life. The only way to survive is by frantically stacking up blocks to reach the top of the tower. Once Vincent completes a series of trials he’ll wake up to see the light of day. When he’s awake, Vincent has to deal with the dilemma of sleeping with another woman. This process repeats itself over the course of nine days.
The nightmares are where you’ll spend most of your time. Basically, you’re pulling, pushing, and sliding a bunch of blocks to form platforms to climb up. Vincent can only climb one block at a time so you need to build stairs to help reach your goal. This all has to be done in a timely manner because the ground beneath you is constantly falling. There is no time for mistakes and no time for standing around. You have to think on the fly during any given situation to succeed. It can be very frustrating.
The level design depends on which difficultly mode you choose. For the purposes of this review I played the game on Normal. This was quite possibly the most difficult “normal” mode I have ever played. Some of the layouts are legitimately challenging and it takes time to figure out what to do next. Time you don’t have. This is what makes Catherine so stressful. It doesn’t help that the controls can get completely wonky when you’re climbing the opposite side of the tower. You can’t even fully rotate the camera, which just adds to the problem.
Just when you thought you figured the game out, a new obstacle is thrown your way. It’s constantly evolving right until the very end, never allowing you to get comfortable. There are heavy blocks, unmovable blocks, slippery blocks, traps and you’ll even encounter other sheep climbing the same tower. Sometimes the level itself will be one cramped up space that spans only three blocks wide.
The boss battles also add a whole new dynamic to the block stacking formula. You have to always be aware of an incoming attack while trying to figure out the puzzle. Even the tower itself can be changed in an instant and you have to adapt right away. It gets intense enough to make you start fumbling around with the controller.
On the easy and normal difficult modes it is possible to undo up to nine actions. This is extremely helpful if you happen to make a slight mistake that results in a much larger problem. This luxury is not provided on the hard difficulty, which borderlines on insanity. If you make one mistake that’s unfixable you’ll have to retry the stage. If you didn’t make it to a check point you’ll have to start from the beginning. The first stage alone is already challenging. You have to really utilize all your techniques, so it’s better to play through the game at least once before increasing the difficulty to that level.
Thankfully, tips are constantly provided with visual aids as long as you talk to the other sheep. Some stages also have various power ups scattered throughout the stage to overcome some of the tougher obstacles. You’ll need all the help you can get. To make things even more interesting, you can opt to collect coins during your climb to freedom. The coins can be used to purchase items, but you’ll want to collect them primarily to increase your score.
However the nightmare’s aren’t simply puzzles, they do help to push the story along as well. Before moving onto the next level of the nightmare, you have to answer a question while in a confessional. The questions range from asking if life begins or ends after marriage to asking what would you do if your lover was into baby play. The outcome of the ending ultimately changes depending on how you answered each question. The game does a great job at making you think since many of the questions are personal and the answers aren’t exactly black and white.
The morality meter constantly shifts depending on how you react to various situations. Aside from answering the questions during Vincent’s dreams, you can also shift the meter by answering texts from Katherine and Catherine. You can change the texts in a variety of ways by simply deleting and rewriting a message. This can shift the meter more towards the Order side of things if you’re more caring and understanding towards Katherine. It can go in the opposite direction if your responses are cold to her or if you encourage Catherine by giving in to temptation.
What’s disappointing is that the morality meter doesn’t change how events play out. Instead, it just changes what Vincent thinks to himself as the same events occur each time. While this is interesting in itself for multiple playthroughs, sometimes it just doesn’t make sense considering the type of things Vincent could potentially say. You have to be extra careful with how you answer questions since it may result in the meter going in a direction you didn’t anticipate. Of course, there’s some excitement to not knowing what will happen if you just answer truthfully. That’s the best way to play your first time through.
The last few hours of the game takes a turn for the worse. It wasn’t enough to ruin the experience but it was still very off putting. The game could have ended two hours earlier and it would have been far more satisfying. Instead, it just kept dragging on. In some way it’s fortunate that things start to slip so late into the game because it really could have been a deal breaker if players weren’t already so invested to the story. On the normal difficulty it took a little over fifteen hours to complete, so the last two dragging on isn’t necessarily the end of the world.
Catherine has quite a lot of replay value. In addition to there being eight different endings, there’s also a couple of local multiplayer modes. In trial mode you can either climb alone or with a friend cooperatively in four different stages. Unlocking the trials is no easy task. You’ll need to earn a certain amount of gold medals in order to play certain stages. The competitive multiplayer mode is unlocked by simply completing the game once and all four Colosseum stages are available right from the start. This mode is hilariously fun to play since you’re fighting your way to the top on a single tower. You can push your opponent and set blocks as obstacles to make things difficult for your friend.
The soundtrack also deserves some praise. The music does a great job at amplifying the feelings of anxiety and panic as you progress through each tower. It really adds to the tension when you’re being chased by a giant hand holding a fork. Atlus included an 11 track CD with every pre-order. The art book it came in explains the motivations behind each track, which are based on various classical composition. It’s a great read if you’re trying to learn more about the game.
- Lovely anime-style visuals.
- Intriguing story with clever writing and quality voice acting.
- Puzzles are constantly evolving right until the very end.
- Heart pumping soundtrack adds an additional layer of intensity.
- Multiple endings and extra gameplay modes add tons of replay value.
- Frustrating. Very frustrating.
- Controls can cause problems at the worst possible moments.
- Can’t fully manipulate the camera.
- The last few hours.
A unique game like Catherine only comes along every so often. Don’t let the marketing fool you into thinking it’s all about gratuitous sex with a bunch of craziness. Catherine is a mature title that touches on a variety of themes that adults can appreciate and identify with. Going through the story for the first time is an intriguing affair that ultimately makes you question the type of person you truly are, maybe even more than you’d like to admit. While the difficulty might be too much for some people to handle, it’s an experience that is just as rewarding as it is punishing. Who knew rearranging blocks could be so much fun?